Robinson aims to turn frustration into attack

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The Independent Online

England are under little pressure to beat the Wallabies here today: the top brass of the Rugby Football Union who plotted and implemented the morning of the long knives in April - who oversaw the mass sackings in a red-rose coaching team they decided had outgrown its usefulness - are granting Andy Robinson and his newly appointed back-room colleagues all the time they need to rebuild the national side in time for the defence of the World Cup in France next year. One way or another, this is probably just as well.

It took the finest team in the history of English rugby to work out a way of beating the Australians in their own country; indeed, they managed it twice in a glorious six-month span in 2003. This current side, elderly and inexperienced at the same time, is a very far cry from the vintage of three years ago. Comparisons may be drawn between Lawrence Dallaglio and Pat Sanderson, between Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Goode, between Martin Johnson and just about anyone you care to mention, but they are far from kind in respect of today's players. In fact, they border on the brutal.

And to make matters worse, Steve Walsh is refereeing this second and final Cook Cup Test. Given the prickliness of their past relations with the most narcissistically driven official in the professional game, the tourists would rather have handed the whistle to Crocodile Dundee. Walsh has been in trouble with the authorities more than once, most notably after involving himself in a slanging match with the England conditioning specialist Dave Reddin during a World Cup pool match with Samoa in this very city - an argument that ended with Walsh squirting a water bottle in Reddin's direction. Some senior figures in the England hierarchy wonder at his continued presence on the international panel.

Robinson did not mention Walsh's name yesterday, but it was surely no coincidence that he broke the habit of a lifetime and declined to seek a pre-match meeting. "I've decided to try a new approach," said the head coach. "For the last six years, I've religiously followed the policy of talking through aspects of the game with the referee. Sometimes you get a benefit from the discussion, sometimes you don't. On this occasion, we're changing tack."

As Robinson pointed out, last week's 34-3 defeat in Sydney was rough on his players. "There was a decision after 55 minutes that changed the course of the game," he said. "Julian White was penalised for dropping a scrum, and the Wallabies scored a try from it. That put us 19-3 down and our heads dropped. Above everything else, we have to maintain our self-belief this time. If we do that, things could get interesting."

For them to be interesting enough, England will require a fair contest at the scrum. The Wallaby coaches have spent most of the week talking up their new props, Greg Holmes and his fellow Queensland front-rower Rodney Blake, but no one with the slightest understanding of the intricacies of set-piece play seriously argues that the Australians are up to scratch in this department. The very notion of a scrummager of White's strength and class being forced to hit the deck by a powder-puff Australian unit beggars belief, which is why Robinson continues to fume about that decision six days ago.

As things stand, the tourists do not have the slightest idea how Walsh will control this area of the contest. But even if the referee plays a blinder and gives the English scrummagers their head, there is little prospect of an upset. The Wallabies will lose something in the game navigation department by playing Sam Cordingley ahead of the long-serving George Gregan at scrum-half, but the excellence of their line-out routine and the game-breaking ability of Stephen Larkham, Stirling Mortlock, Lote Tuqiri and Chris Latham with ball in hand, supplemented by that of Clyde Rathbone off the bench, points to another comfortable victory.

Even so, Robinson earned full marks for striking a positive note ahead of the piece. "The one thing in sport I don't like is an 'if only', and there were a lot of 'if onlys' in Sydney," he said. "How do we respond to that? By continuing to create chances as if we did in the first half of that game, and then taking those opportunities.

"I've made it clear that I don't expect the 2007 World Cup team to take shape much before the middle of next year's Six Nations, but that doesn't mean I'll be happy to come second here. There is a lot of frustration in the squad as a result of last Sunday's match and that will be channelled into our performance."

Telstra Dome teams

Australia

15 C Latham (Queensland)

14 M Gerrard (ACT)

13 S Mortlock (ACT)

12 M Rogers (NSW)

11 L Tuqiri (NSW)

10 S Larkham (ACT)

9 S Cordingley (Q'land)

1 G Holmes (Queensland)

2 A Freier (NSW)

3 R Blake (Queensland)

4 N Sharpe (Western Force)

5 D Vickerman (NSW)

6 M Chisholm (ACT)

7 G Smith (ACT)

8 R Elsom (NSW)

Replacements: J Paul (ACT), A Baxter (NSW), W Palu (NSW), P Waugh (NSW), G Gregan (ACT), C Rathbone (ACT), C Shepherd (Western F)

England

15 I Balshaw (Gloucester)

14 T Varndell (Leicester)

13 J Noon (Newcastle)

12 M Catt (London Irish)

11 M Tait (Newcastle)

10 A Goode (Leicester)

9 P Richards (Gloucester)

1 G Rowntree (Leicester)

2 G Chuter (Leicester)

3 J White (Leicester)

4 C Jones (Sale)

5 B Kay (Leicester)

6 J Worsley (Wasps)

7 L Moody (Leicester)

8 P Sanderson (W'ster, capt)

Replacements: L Mears (Bath), T Payne (Wasps), L Deacon (Leicester), M Lund (Sale), N Walshe (Bath), O Barkley (Bath), S Abbott (Harlequins)

Referee: S Walsh (N Zealand)

Kick-off: 11am today (SS2)

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